Teaching the Religion-Science Relationship

Author: Fr. Thomas E. Hosinski, C.S.C.

When I entered Holy Cross at a young age, I intended to become a parish priest, like those Holy Cross priests in my home parish whom I loved and admired because of their kindness, their joy in their vocations, and their pastoral care of the people. But as I went through college and graduate school in preparation for Ordination, my own faith journey led me in another direction.

I majored in geology as an undergraduate and had to deal with troubling questions raised in my mind by the intersection of religious belief and what we know of the universe through science. Pursuing these questions and seeking to resolve them was crucial to my intellectual development.  But it also presented me with a dilemma about my future ministry: Should I continue with my intention to enter parish ministry, or should I consider becoming a university professor?

Fr Thomas Hosinski, CSC

After college, as I studied theology in preparation for Ordination, I came to see that the questions that intrigued me were at root theological questions. And at Notre Dame I had many examples of priests engaged in the academic life. At the same time, I became quite drawn to the development of mind and heart that occurs in students during the college years and knew that God was calling me to the ministry of teaching in higher education.

I pursued doctoral studies in theology and specialize in two areas that are closely related for me: the religion-science dialogue and process theology (utilizing the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead to address theological topics). For the past 35 years I have been teaching a course in religion and science at the University of Portland and have used Whitehead’s philosophy in service of Christian theology.

An academic career requires engagement in research, scholarship as well as teaching. Research enriches and enlivens teaching, but the demanding and often lonely work of scholarship can seem to draw you away from the concrete concerns of ministry. However, I have found the ministry of teaching and scholarship both pastoral and intellectual, which meld into a richly rewarding vocation.

People expect priests to help guide them on their faith journeys. To unite this priestly task with the tasks of teaching and research has been a joy for me. In both written scholarship and research shared in classroom instruction, seminars, and public presentations, I have engaged in the religion-science dialogue. Because of the importance of this dialogue in my own faith journey, I have tried to guide young minds as they deal with questions similar to the ones that troubled me. 

Fr Thomas Hoskinski, CSC

Educated lay people think about such questions and in their quest for answers what they hear in the public media are often only the loudest voices proclaiming that science and religion are mortal enemies. I try to help my students see how distorted such a view really is and that there is no conflict between science and religion when both are understood properly. Both religious people and scientists need to exercise humility in recognizing that no one way of knowing attains all truth.

Our Catholic Christian faith does not need to fear anything science discovers to be true, but at the same time it teaches us that science is not an exhaustive explanation of the universe or of us humans. Our religious faith and tradition testifies to dimensions of reality and of human existence that science alone cannot illuminate. Science and religion both lead us to truth, but we need humility and creative imagination to arrive at a fuller and richer understanding of our universe under the guidance of both.

Recently I heard from a friend and former student whom I had taught more than 30 years ago. She is a dedicated physician, and she told me that what we discussed in my religion and science course still helps her to integrate her religious faith with her scientific work. And another former student, whom I taught just a few years ago and who is currently completing a Ph.D. program in biology, recently told me that she often thinks of what we discussed in my religion and science course and that she has found it quite beneficial in her own faith journey. Such responses from former students are the great joys of being a professor, letting me know that I have had a positive effect on their lives and their faith, and have given them something of lasting worth.

Teaching is a rewarding vocation, and my experience has shown that teaching can also be a true pastoral ministry. It is humbling to realize what influence we can have on our students and colleagues. The work of scholarship demands time, discipline and commitment and can seem quite removed from pastoral work. But the life of a teaching priest really is quite pastoral as we seek to provide guidance for our students and colleagues on the faith journey we all must take.

Divine Providence uses us and our diverse talents in ways we can hardly imagine, each of us contributing something valuable to the building up of God’s Kingdom in our world. I am grateful to have played some small role in this wondrous adventure.

Fr Thomas Hosinski, CSC

Fr. Thomas E. Hosinski, C.S.C., professed Final Vows in the Congregation of Holy Cross on February 11, 1972, and was ordained a priest on April 7, 1973. Fr. Thomas is a Professor in the Department of Theology at the University of Portland. This post is part of a series for the Spes Unica Blog in which we hear from some of our Holy Cross scholars who work in education. Learn more about the work of Holy Cross in the field of education, as well as our men in advanced studies preparing for such work in the future.   

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